Getting Organised: The First Steps Towards Financial Clarity

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The first step in the financial planning process is gathering all the information needed to make financial decisions. Because this can take valuable time, people are often tempted to jump straight to the decision. This usually leads to suboptimal financial choices, some of which may be irreversible.

From our work with clients, we’ve learnt that making smart financial decisions is only possible when all the relevant information is available. For this reason, our relationship with new clients always starts with getting financially organised. Doing this well lays the groundwork for the clarity and confidence that always follows excellent financial planning.

From Chaos to Order

Many investors struggle with disorganisation. The overwhelming nature of scattered documents, unclear cash flow, and a lack of clarity about one’s financial situation can take a significant mental and emotional toll. It’s easy to feel trapped in a cycle of financial uncertainty, unsure how to break free and take control of your money.

However, hidden beneath the surface of this chaos lies the transformative power of financial organisation. Getting organised initially seems daunting, but every journey begins with a single step. We suggest that you start small and celebrate your progress along the way. Financial organisation is a skill that can be learned and improved over time.

One of the first steps in getting organised is to create a centralised hub for your financial information. This can be a physical binder, a digital folder, or a combination of both. The second step is collecting the documents, statements, and information that make up your financial life and saving them in your centralised hub.

By having all your important documents in one easily accessible place, you can quickly and easily reference the information you need to make informed decisions about your money.

The Power of Financial Clarity

At the heart of organisation lies the power of clarity. When you take the time to gather and review your important financial documents and information, you create a clear picture of your current financial situation. This clarity is like a map, helping you navigate the complex landscape of your financial life with confidence and purpose.

With your financial information organised, you can gain a deeper understanding of your financial life. This means closely examining your income, expenses, savings, and investments and identifying patterns and trends that may impact your financial health. Are there areas where improvement can be made? Are there opportunities to redirect your resources towards your goals?

Financial clarity also enables you to set meaningful, achievable goals for your future. When you clearly understand your starting point, you can create a roadmap to guide you towards your desired destination. Whether you’re saving for a new home, planning for retirement, or working to pay off debt, having a clear action plan can help you stay motivated, focused, and on track.

Taking the First Steps Towards Financial Organisation

Financial organisation is like a beacon of light guiding you through the fog of financial confusion and illuminating the path to a brighter, more secure future.

The process and effort of getting financially organised may seem daunting at first, but the rewards are well worth the effort. When you commit to decluttering your finances, you’re not just tidying up paperwork – you’re laying the foundation for a more empowered, intentional relationship with your money.

We have successfully assisted countless families in this process, and we are more than capable of guiding you through the first step towards achieving the peace of mind from excellent financial planning.

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Financial Planning on Easy Mode

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In video games, “Easy Mode” is a popular setting that makes the gaming experience more accessible and less challenging for players. When you play in this mode, the game automatically adjusts various elements to make your journey smoother and more manageable. Enemies become weaker, resources are more abundant, and the consequences of making mistakes are less severe. This allows players to enjoy the game at a pace that suits their skill level without feeling overwhelmed or frustrated.

Like gaming, many people find the world of finance and investing intimidating and complex.

In the following sections, we’ll explore how applying “Easy Mode” strategies to financial planning can help you manage your finances more effectively and achieve your goals.

The Challenges Financial Planning on Default Mode

Financial planning can be daunting and complex. Many investors are overwhelmed by the sheer amount of financial information, investment options, and ever-changing market conditions. This complexity often leads to pitfalls and obstacles, such as short-term thinking, emotional decision-making, and a lack of a clear, long-term financial plan.

Operating in this mode can take a significant emotional toll. The constant stress and anxiety of making the right financial choices can leave individuals feeling paralysed and unsure of how to proceed. The lack of a clear plan can also increase the risk of financial setbacks and losses, further compounding the emotional stress of investing.

Recognising the limitations of the default mode approach is the first step towards finding a better way to manage your finances. We firmly believe that the best way to increase the probability of success is to embrace simplicity, not complexity. While this can be difficult for wealthy investors to accept, we’ve seen the benefits first-hand.

Switching to Easy Mode

Transitioning from financial planning’s default mode to “Easy Mode” can bring a sense of relief and empowerment to your financial journey. Like in gaming, “Easy Mode” in financial planning makes enemies weaker, resources more abundant, and the consequences of mistakes less severe.

One of our biggest enemies in the financial planning journey is the constant media noise surrounding us. Regularly consuming news about short-term market movements and recent world events does not set us up for making smart long-term decisions. Smart investors know that success is more likely if they remain focused on the long term, which is easier when they are mindful of what information they consume.

Financial planning is the quest to accumulate enough resources for a dignified and independent retirement. Smart investors understand what asset classes give them the best chance of growing their resources and fighting inflation. They know that by diversifying within the right asset classes, they can put the odds of success in their favour.

Lastly, many investors undo the effects of their previous good decisions by making emotional decisions during times of heightened uncertainty, such as short-term world events. Smart investors understand market history and investment cycles, allowing them to stay focused on the long term when others react emotionally. This is another hallmark of those playing on “Easy Mode”.

Help On The Way

Embracing “Easy Mode” means focusing on long-term, goal-oriented strategies that align with your values. It involves prioritising the essential concepts and actions for your success.

Collaborating with a caring financial adviser can be instrumental on this journey, but the principles of simplicity, clarity, and emotional resilience remain invaluable even if you navigate the journey independently.

We encourage you to remember that the power to transform your financial life lies within your hands. Embrace the simplicity and clarity of the “Easy Mode” approach and take confident strides towards a brighter financial future. We exist to guide families on this path, and we invite you to connect with us if you need help with financial planning in “Easy Mode”.

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The Deceptive Allure of “More”

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Cashflow is the lifeblood of any financial plan. How we allocate the money coming in will determine both the present and the future of our families. It’s not a glamorous topic, but it’s undeniably ground zero of financial success.

Our cashflow challenges evolve as we move through the different life phases. Our early working years are typically about providing for essential daily “needs”. For those whose careers allow them to break free from daily concerns, the allure of certain “wants” starts to emerge. These desires challenge our beliefs about what we need to be happy.

This internal battle rages on throughout life, and how we respond to this challenge will determine our future financial success. But what truly brings fulfilment, and what consequences do these decisions have for our future selves?

The Quicksand of Accumulation

Our desire to accumulate more is grounded in evolution. A striving for “more” drove past generations to create the world we now live in, and current-day economic theory is still based on the assumption that “more is better”. But, in a world where most of us have moved well beyond providing for basic needs, does this instinct for more create problems we could do without?

As financial advisers, we have witnessed firsthand families who have become ensnared by lifestyle creep at the expense of their futures. It’s a tradeoff many now regret, but like quicksand that gradually ensnares its victim, it’s difficult to break free.

Similarly, we have worked with many wealthy families who have found a way to overcome the desire for “shiny new things”. These families have a well-developed and personal philosophy of their values and a clear picture of what they consider a life well-lived.

Embracing The Tradeoff

There are many ways that spending can bring happiness and joy – interestingly, many of our clients have shifted their spending from possessions to experiences with family and loved ones.

However, everything in financial planning is a tradeoff. For many, embracing “more” comes at the expense of their own “tomorrow”. Tragically, this only becomes evident in most cases when it’s too late to change course.

Before all of us lies the invitation to let go of pursuing “more”, choosing instead to embrace “enough”. We appreciate and understand that everyone’s definition of satisfaction and “enough” is unique and personal. No matter what your definition of “enough” is, for most of us, this still means lives magnitudes better than our grandparents.

Navigating Together

We encourage you to seek clarity about what is truly important to you, bringing more intention to your spending and investing. All consumption cannot, and should not, be avoided. Indeed, one person’s “want” is another person’s “need”.

While you will always remain the expert in the design of your own life, we are the experts in guiding families in making the tradeoffs that provide them both meaning and an independent future.

Guiding families from pursuing “more” to embracing “enough for tomorrow” is our reason for being. The comprehensive planning we provide includes all the tools you need to walk your financial journey successfully. We look forward to guiding you on your journey to “enough”.

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The Tragedy of Asset Misallocation

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Military history is full of episodes that offer lasting lessons that can be applied in other fields. Take, for example, the unexpected fall of Singapore in World War II. Known as the Gibraltar of the East, Singapore’s defence seemed unbeatable, with massive guns pointing to the sea, awaiting a naval attack. However, the actual assault came through the Malayan jungle, where the guns couldn’t even aim. This strategic blunder resulted from putting resources in the wrong place and had severe consequences.

Just as Singapore fell due to a mistaken assumption about the threat’s direction, many modern-day investors are being misled about the ultimate threat to their financial security.

Guns Facing the Wrong Direction

Investors have been bombarded by internet gurus telling them about the danger of high fees, with the adviser’s cost coming under the spotlight. It has led to many investors believing that a DIY approach is the optimal strategy. While we acknowledge that some investors have the ability and discipline to follow a DIY approach, we have seen too many examples of investors working in isolation, leading to suboptimal results.

We frequently see clients making poor asset allocation decisions: how much to allocate to equities, bonds, and cash. This complex decision must weigh the investor’s time frame, goals, attitude to investing risks, and emotional makeup.

Research shows that over 90% of a portfolio’s return can be attributed to this single decision. It should be taken seriously, yet we still encounter too many investors who have misunderstood the path to success. When we have helped clients correct their approach, the value has far exceeded our advice fees.

While it’s true that high fees can eat into returns over time, fixating on them can distract from more crucial aspects that significantly impact investment success. It’s time we face the guns in the right direction.

The Critical Link Between Asset Allocation and Investor Behaviour

A successful investment strategy starts with knowing how to allocate assets correctly. Our best ally in this war is a good understanding of market history.

While equities (the ownership of the great companies of the world) has been the primary driver of global markets, too many investors have shied away from this asset class for fear of the frequent but temporary declines they experience.

Many long-term investors who can withstand short-term losses have given up real wealth to avoid the emotional stress of unpredictable markets. Some investors willingly accept this trade-off, understanding what it means. But too many investors don’t realise what they’re giving up or what other options they have. This is the great tragedy of asset misallocation.

There are countless examples of clients who have prospered thanks to a simple change in mindset aided by a caring adviser. This is the real value of advice and one we’re excited about showing to more clients.

The Courage To Be Disciplined

In a time where lifespans are becoming longer and longer, too many investors are at risk of investing without intention. While no single portfolio is perfect for every client, all investors could benefit from stress testing their portfolio by asking: “Am I short-changing my future self?”.
Our role as your lifetime financial partner is to reflect your decisions back to you, helping you make the right trade-offs for your unique circumstances. Where appropriate, we will push back and encourage you to follow the path of discipline that your future self will thank you for. Let’s face the guns in the right direction!

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Do You Deserve the Returns?

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Most things worth having in life often don’t come easy. With investing, it’s no different. If you want the returns that the best investors get, you have to earn them through the right behaviours and mindset.

As Mark Twain famously said about cats and stoves, investors often avoid the stock market entirely because they got burned once. But the stock market is more like a cold stove – strange at first, but safe if given the chance.

Like we do every few years, we once again find ourselves in a period of heightened uncertainty. With multiple wars on the go, high interest rates, and an imminent international election cycle, we have all the ingredients for the most common investing mistakes. But how is the mature investor to proceed in such an environment? Let’s unpack the mistakes before we explore a better approach.

The Behaviour Gap
It’s a sad reality that most people get investing wrong. They chase winning funds, buying high and selling low. They tinker and react instead of sticking to a plan. According to the data, the average investor’s returns are much lower than the returns of the funds they are invested in! This is a frightening fact and one that should scare any serious investor.

It’s not that these investors set out on a mission to fail. However, due to the human condition, all investors can be tempted into making irrational, emotion-driven decisions during times of uncertainty.

It’s only in the last few decades that the field of behavioural science has shed more light on the cognitive processes we fall into when we are stressed. The shortcuts we have developed through centuries of survival have not prepared us well for the modern financial system. However, through a mature awareness of how we operate, we can overcome this obstacle like all the other obstacles in our past. While it may not happen in our lifetime, the behaviours we aim towards may become more instinctual over time.

The Blueprint for Success
While the wrong behaviour may be ingrained in us, the correct behaviours have been modelled for us by many great investors. A study of history also hints at the mindsets that will best suit us as we embrace an uncertain future. These mindsets may be simple, but they will be challenging to cling to.

The first mindset we’re aiming for is a long-term perspective. This provides perspective about what it is that you’re trying to achieve on your investing journey and why it is that you’re trying to build wealth. By also having an understanding of history, we become rational optimists over time. The second mindset we desire is to become accepting of short-term disappointment. Setbacks are inevitable, and in investment markets, this shows up as market volatility – times during which asset values decrease in price. Finally, we aim for the ability to be patient. Great results come to those willing to wait to see the fruits of their labour.

These mindsets play out differently, but we know how great investors implement them. They typically invest in a globally diversified portfolio with low fees and contribute to them regularly with discipline and patience. This portfolio is “perfect” on day one, but the results will only come when mixed with a long-term perspective and patience.

While the portfolio is “perfect”, the investor knows that temporary declines will occur regularly. When it comes, they don’t change their strategy. They don’t react to short-term events. They welcome them as the price they have to pay for superior long-term returns.

We follow this blueprint ourselves, and it’s the one we desire for our clients. There’s no guarantee about the future, but we are confident that those who remain steadfast during times of uncertainty will reap the rewards in the long term. If you’re growing weary of uncertain times, we’d love to discuss your concerns. It’s in these times that our future success is shaped.

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The UK could face a “retirement savings crisis” as workers aren’t putting enough away

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Figures suggest that many households aren’t saving enough to be financially secure in retirement. Calculating what income you’d need to reach retirement goals before the milestone could mean you’re in a better position to reach them.

According to a report in PensionAge, only 43% of baby boomer households below the age of 65 are on track to secure a “moderate” income. The Pensions and Lifetime Savings Association define this as £20,800 for a single retiree and £30,600 for a couple.

On top of this, the rising cost of living is likely to mean more people will struggle to meet retirement goals. If retirees hadn’t considered inflation, including periods of high inflation, when calculating their income needs, they could find they have an income gap.

It’s often stated that baby boomers are in a better position financially for retirement. During their careers, defined benefit (DB) pensions, which provide a guaranteed income and are often generous, were more common.

However, this isn’t the case for all baby boomers, who missed out on the introduction of auto-enrolment, which led to a rise in the number of defined contribution (DC) pensions. As a result, many are relying on the State Pension and their savings.

These financial challenges are further compounded for retirees that didn’t get on the property ladder or are still paying a mortgage.

The retirement income gap could widen, even though more people than ever are saving through a pension.

Research from the People’s Pension suggests that 63% of individuals aren’t saving enough to meet their target. This rises to 68% of Generation X workers, who were born between 1965 and 1980, and 76% of millennials, who were born between 1981 and 1996.

The findings suggest that retirement could fall short of expectations for more than half of workers.

Phil Brown, director of policy at B&CE, the People’s Pension’s provider, said: “Once Generation X starts to retire in large numbers, the UK could face a retirement savings crisis, with people unable to carry on with anything like their current standard of living.”

Are you saving enough for your retirement?

Even if retirement is years away, calculating if you’re on track is a worthwhile task. It can help give you confidence and, if you identify a gap, you’re in a better position to close it.

To understand if you’re on the right track for retirement, you need to bring together how much income you’ll need and how much you are saving now.

What income will you need in retirement?

A vital first step is understanding how much income you will need to reach your goals.

Many retirees find that their day-to-day expenses fall – you may have paid off your mortgage or no longer need to spend money commuting. However, discretionary spending may increase, whether you want to indulge in hobbies or hope to visit some bucket list destinations.

While things can change, setting out a retirement budget now can provide a useful guideline when you’re trying to understand if you’re saving enough.

The current levels of high inflation have highlighted why it’s important to think about how your income needs may change over the years.

Usually, the cost of living gradually rises. So, an income that afforded a comfortable lifestyle at the start of retirement may not stretch as far in 20 years. It’s important to think about how inflation will affect your income.

As well as the cost of living, you should consider how unexpected events could affect income needs too.

How will your pension contributions create an income?

It can be difficult to understand how the pension contributions you’re making regularly will translate into a retirement income.

If you have a DB pension, it will provide a guaranteed income in retirement. The income is usually based on your salary and how many years you’ve been a member of the scheme. Your pension scheme can provide the details that will help you calculate your income in retirement.

If you have a DC pension, it can be a little more complicated. Your pension contributions, along with tax relief and employer contributions, are added to a pot and usually invested. As a result, investment performance is likely to affect your retirement savings. When you retire, you will be responsible for using your pension to create a sustainable income.

Often complicating calculations is that you’re likely to have multiple pensions and other assets, such as savings or property, that you intend to use for retirement.

Bringing together your different assets now to understand how they could deliver an income could help you identify potential gaps.

Contact us to talk about your retirement plans

Assessing your retirement savings is an important step to reaching your goals. If you’d like to work with us to understand how your pension contributions and other assets will provide an income later in life, please contact us.

We can provide some reassurance that you’re on track or create a long-term plan if you are not saving enough.

Please note: This blog is for general information only and does not constitute advice. The information is aimed at retail clients only.

A pension is a long-term investment. The fund value may fluctuate and can go down, which would have an impact on the level of pension benefits available. Your pension income could also be affected by the interest rates at the time you take your benefits. The tax implications of pension withdrawals will be based on your individual circumstances, tax legislation and regulation, which are subject to change in the future.

Levels and bases of, and reliefs from taxation are subject to change and their value depends on the individual circumstances of the investor.

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